When my eldest daughter was a toddler she refused to leave the house without a miniature stuffed animal in tow. The animal choice was always on rotation. One week it was a floral printed purple puppy carried in a miniature matching purse. The next time it might be a tiny white dog with pink spots and the next day a small, long-tailed monkey. They were all similarly sized, able to be grasped in one toddler-sized hand as she jumped through puddles at the local park, reached for books off the library shelves, clutched close as she drifted asleep for her afternoon nap.
Nowadays she never leaves home without Doc Martens on her feet and clutched in one hand a rotating selection of small totes — those free with purchase plastic bags you get from certain name-brand stores. One week it might be a Lululemon plastic tote, the next Athleta. When I drop her and her brother off at middle school, I see several girls carrying the same bags as their purses. Not a single one carries a stuffed animal anymore. Of course not.
The Transition Years
My eldest is thirteen years old. She’s taller than me now, knows how to part her hair straight down the middle, and has a quick wit that leaves her daddy and me laughing and in awe of her growing maturity. It seems a bit unfair that just as you begin to enjoy the more mature company of your young teen, they begin pulling away from you. They are exploring their independence and testing boundaries. After school she runs straight upstairs to FaceTime her friends. Her evenings are spent at soccer practice. Weekends are for soccer tournaments, spending the night at a friend’s house, or entertaining friends at our home where they bake cookies without me, pop their own popcorn, giggle about stories we do not always share. And while I know this is a healthy and natural progression into young adulthood, there are times my heart misses her. The other night my husband and I experienced what is becoming a more typical scene in our home: watching t.v. alone. Our youngest two children are asleep by eight and our older two are off in their own rooms studying or talking on the phone. My husband turned to me as we began another episode of The Queen’s Gambit and said, “I miss the big kids. Why do I feel like we are being broken up with slowly?”
Don’t get me wrong, we are finding ways to stay connected with our teenagers — shared family meals at the table most nights of the week, t.v. shows we can all enjoy together, silly board games like Throw Throw Burrito, Exploding Kittens, and Catan. We converse over deep subjects during our nightly family devotional. We engage them in conversation in the car and are intentional about one-on-one time with each of them, taking them to breakfast or out shopping. But still, the centuries-old truth remains: The teenage years are for moving towards independence, towards self-discovery of who they are created to be. It is a transition period. A time of change for the entire family.
Glimpsing Who They Will Become
Sometimes I see the same little people I once knew in the older spirit of who they are today. For example, when my eldest does that hop, skip of joy after assisting the winning goal in soccer I remember the day we surprised her with a kitten on her 7th birthday and she did that same exact leap of joy. I glimpse a sparkle in her eye and hear a rapid cadence in her speech when she is talking to her daddy about her latest science class lesson on the circulatory system. It’s the same sparkle I saw in her 18-month-old eyes when we read her favorite book about animal mothers and their babies.
Sometimes I’m offered a glimpse of who they are becoming. For my daughter, it is when I go upstairs to retrieve her laundry basket and find on her desk a beautiful painting she’s worked on during those hours I heard only loud records being blasted from her room. I see it when she talks passionately about politics or something she has learned in class. For my son, I often see the young man he is becoming in how he treats his two youngest sisters. How he hoists our youngest on his hip and points things out to her at the zoo. How he checks on me when I am caring for his other sister, “You need anything, Mom?”
They Still Need Us
I was reminded a few weeks ago that despite all their pulling away, teenagers still need their mother. My eldest recently went through a minor, outpatient medical procedure. She is a tough girl, always putting on a brave front. So, when the doctor asked me to wait outside during the procedure my daughter wasn’t fazed at all, waving at me slightly as I left the room. When I returned to her side, I could see in her eyes that she was in pain even as she smiled weakly at the doctor giving post-op instructions. My heart went out to her as I reached over and rubbed her leg in comfort. Her eyes, filling with tears, darted over to mine. I mouthed “It’s ok. You’re ok.” She nodded her head. In that moment I was flooded with a prayer, “Dear God, let me be there when she needs me.” As she studies for exams, when she holds her new baby, as she experiences heartbreak and rejection, when she’s lonely, when she fails, when she’s afraid — may I be a place of comfort for her in all that is to come.
Later in the car, I gave her a big hug. “You know, Sweetheart, you don’t always have to be so brave. You can cry,” I said as I pulled back to look in her long face. “That really hurt I’m sure.” It’s almost the exact words the labor and delivery nurse told me at my daughter’s emergency, Caesarean birth. “Now Mom, you don’t have to be so brave. This is difficult.” I was about to meet my first-born then. Now I reach over and tuck her long hair behind her ear. That same baby now sits beside me so tall, so beautiful, so brave.
I can only hope and pray to be the place where my growing children can let their defenses down, a safe place to come home to even as they make their way out into this big, scary, gorgeous world. Her daddy and I might feel tinges of sadness at their growing independence, but we also delight in the people they are becoming as they move bit by bit out into the world.